June 15, 2024 12:37 am

Microsoft offers to match pay of all OpenAI staff

Microsoft has offered to match the pay of any staff who join it from crisis-ridden OpenAI.

Sam Altman was controversially sacked as CEO on Friday, leading to a job offer at Microsoft to lead “a new advanced AI research team”.

Almost every staff member at OpenAI has threatened to leave unless he and co-founder Greg Brockman are reinstated.

It is still unclear whether Mr Altman will ultimately join Microsoft, which is OpenAI’s biggest investor by far.

Evan Morikawa, an engineering manager at OpenAI, has claimed that 743 out of 770 employees at OpenAI have signed a letter calling on the board to resign – with staff themselves threatening to leave if their demands are not met.

In their letter they claim they had been offered jobs at Microsoft – something the company’s chief technology officer Kevin Scott has now confirmed, telling staff that “if needed” they will be hired by Microsoft in a role that “matches your compensation”.

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The uncertainty about people’s futures extend to Mr Altman, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella telling CNBC that he might not be joining, adding he was “committed to OpenAI and Sam, irrespective of what configuration”.

“Obviously that depends on the people at OpenAI staying there or coming to Microsoft, so I’m open to both options,” he said.

Changes

On Monday, Mr Nadella told CNBC “something has to change” at OpenAI – creator of the ChatGPT chatbot – but did not specify what that was, or rule out the tech giant getting a seat on the board.

Despite its heavy investment in the firm, and using its technology extensively across its products, Microsoft’s links to OpenAI do not currently extend to its boardroom.

“At this point, I think it’s very, very clear that something has to change around the governance,” said Mr Nadella.

“We’ll have a good dialogue with their board on that.”

Satya Nadella
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Image caption,

Satya Nadella has been chairman and CEO of Microsoft since 2014

The Microsoft chief executive’s calm demeanour in a round of media interviews is in contrast to the tumult at OpenAI itself, where staff are in open revolt at Mr Altman’s departure.

They have demanded he returns and the board is fired – but exactly what is happening with the company’s former chief executive is still unclear.

Nathan Benaich, partner at Air Street Capital – a firm which has invested in many AI companies – praised Mr Nadella for his decisions in the aftermath of Mr Altman’s sacking.

“This is fantastic deal-making,” he said.

“Microsoft has emerged in an even more compelling position. It has the two leaders of OpenAI, it has the ability to attract talent, it has the balance sheet, and it’s building an insane computing infrastructure to the tune of $50bn.

“This is larger than some of the most ambitious government-funded research projects.”

Shear moment

In the middle of all of this is Emmett Shear, the former head of Twitch who has been named the new interim head of OpenAI after Mr Altman’s unceremonious exit.

The pair crossed paths years ago when they were involved with start-up investment programme Y Combinator – with a viral photo of them as part of a group spreading on social media.

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The photo includes several others who went on to great careers in tech, including Aaron Swartz, a celebrated internet freedom activist and early developer of the website Reddit, who died in 2013.

Mr Shear co-founded the hit gaming site Twitch, and led it to become the dominant live-streaming website in the world, before selling the business to Amazon for an estimated $970m (£774m) in 2014.

He remained as CEO under Amazon, but left in March 2023 following the birth of his son.

But some of the tweets he has sent since leaving the firm have caused him to come under scrutiny online, including his public criticism of Microsoft.

Neither Mr Shear nor OpenAI has responded to a request for comment.

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